Riku’s best friend is his dad, Jun. They visit the playground together, play tennis, make up silly games. “He’s my best friend, too,” said Jun.
Jun and his family moved from Japan to California in 2017. Riku was 3 years old and spoke only Japanese.
“We would go to the park, and he would talk to everybody in Japanese,” said his mom, Noriko. “And nobody would understand. So it was a drastic change for him.”
St. Jude patient Riku with his mom, Noriko, and his dad, Jun
In 2018, Riku’s life changed again, with a diagnosis of childhood cancer. Riku had taken a tumble and hit his head.
When he became nauseated and sleepy, his parents rushed him to the emergency room. There, a scan revealed a mass on his brain. The little boy underwent a ten-hour surgery to remove the tumor. A biopsy confirmed it was a type of brain cancer called medulloblastoma.
“I was numb,” said Noriko. “I couldn’t move. I couldn't think. It’s just devastating.”
Riku’s doctors referred him to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for the additional treatment he would need to survive: chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“For the radiation part, we really wanted Riku to receive proton therapy,” Noriko said. “The proton beam could just hit the tumor and protect other tissue around the tumor.”
St. Jude is home to the world’s first proton beam therapy center dedicated solely to children; this was important to them.
Families, like Riku's, will never receive a bill from St. Jude for anything.
As Riku’s treatment got underway, Noriko and Jun quickly learned more about St. Jude. They learned families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food. And they found they were included as important members of Riku’s care team.
“They worry about the smallest concern I have,” said Noriko. “They won't just brush it away. They listen to me, and I feel very secure. I can trust doctors and nurses here. It's been really, really great.”
“I have never seen such a great hospital,” agreed Jun. “We know we can rely on St. Jude and the staff one hundred percent.”
Riku responded well to treatment and has returned home.
Even though Riku is very small, he’s very strong.
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